In August, 2016 the FAA released regulations pertaining to commercial drone use in what is now typically referred to as "Part 107." These regulations lay the groundwork for what drone pilots and operators need to know to safely and legally operate drones for commercial use, but DO NOT apply for hobby/recreational operators. Instead, anyone flying for hobby/recreational purposes is expected to follow "community-based safety guidelines," as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
Certification and Registration
In order to legally operate under Part 107, the operator/drone pilot must be at least 16 years of age, hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does hold a remote pilot certificate. In order to qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either, passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center -OR- hold a part 61 pilot certificate (other than student pilot), complete a flight review within the previous 24 months, and complete a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA. After completing the FAA aeronautical knowledge test, the pilot must then be vetted by the TSA.
Another requirement for commercial drone operators under Part 107 is that their drones MUST be registered prior to conducting operations. Though the FAA was initially requiring ALL drone to be registered - commercial AND hobby drones - the requirement for hobbyists to register their drones was recently struck down in court. You can read more on that here: John Taylor v. FAA
Some Highlights Of Part 107
You can find the entire Part 107 regulations listed by sub-section here: FAA Part 107
For purposes of this blog, we will cover just some of the highlights of Part 107, which can be found in this FAA Part 107 Summary.
- Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs
- Aircraft must remain within visual line-of-sight of the operator (VLOS)
- Daylight ONLY operations (which includes 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset with appropriate anti-collision lighting)
- Must yield right of way to other aircraft
- Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph
- Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station
- Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission
- No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area
The list above is a very short list of just some of the operating limitations under Part 107. Once you obtain your remote pilot certificate, these are the 'default' regulations that must be followed while operating with your newly acquired license. (We'll expand on some of these items in future blog posts - for instance, the airspace limitations.) But, what if you need to operate at night, or you have an aircraft that weighs 60 lbs? Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that it is possible to obtain a waiver from the FAA for most everything on the above list! So, for instance, if you need to fly at night, you can request a waiver for Daylight Operation - Meaning, that the FAA is waiving the regulation that says you can only operate during daylight.
The bad news is that, at least for the time being, it can be quite challenging to obtain most of these waivers. There are specific items that the FAA wants to see in the waiver applications - specifically, how you are going to address risk management and still operate safely under the waiver you intend to get. The other issue is that the FAA currently lacks the manpower needed to go through the thousands of waiver applications and it is typically taking many months (6+ in some cases) to get an approval on your request. So, even if your application is perfect the first time around, it will most likely take quite some time before you can expect to hear anything back in regards to your application.
The FAA has an online portal that can be used to request Waivers/Authorizations that can be found on their Request a Waiver/irspace Authorization site. About half way down the page you can view the list of regulations that are subject to waivers. This portal can also be used to obtain airspace authorizations as well.
As I said earlier, we'll delve into some of the topics into more detail in future posts, but for now we'll let you digest what we have here. Feel free to leave comments and questions below and we'll do our best to help in any way we can!